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Panel taps G.P. projects to meet shortfall

After debating multiple scenarios for two hours Tuesday, the Rogue Valley Area Commission on Transportation yanked $6.5 million from Grants Pass highway projects to meet a state budget shortfall.

"It certainly is a big gulp to swallow from our end of the valley," said Rob Brandes, Josephine County public works director.

The Oregon Department of Transportation must cut $6.5 million from local road projects to help shore up a $168 million shortfall statewide. Recommendations must come from area commissions around the state.

Josephine and Jackson county representatives argued to preserve their own projects. Debate concentrated on the realignment of Coker Butte on Highway 62 in Medford and improving Highway 199 in Grants Pass.

Tim Cummings, Grants Pass city councilman, said commissioners should consider that Highway 199 experiences more crashes than other areas on the list.

"Where does safety fall on the cuts?" he said.

ODOT staff said the Highway 62 project, unlike Highway 199, can't be done in phases and pulling any funds would halt a project that's ready to go.

ODOT staff recommended several guidelines in considering what to cut, including whether the projects leveraged state or local matching funds, whether there was money for construction and whether there was community support.

The projects considered for cuts are on the 2008-11 Statewide Transportation Improvement Project list.

In Jackson County, STIP projects are:

  • The Highway 62 modernization planned for Owen Drive and Coker Butte in Medford.
  • Bridge widening planned at Exits 14 and 19 in Ashland.
  • Improvements of the Fern Valley interchange in Phoenix.
  • Improvements at Kirtland and Blackwell roads to accommodate Highway 140 freight traffic.

In Josephine County, the STIP projects being cut are:

  • Part of the project to upgrade Highway 199 in Grants Pass.
  • An environmental assessment of the south Y (intersections of highways 199, 238 and 99). The project would increase capacity and safety of a dangerous section of Highway 199, from the south Y intersection west to Midway Road.

The Highway 199 project has been divided into two portions: Midway Road to Dowell Road and Dowell Road to the south Y. Portions of the west end of Highway 199 will still receive improvements, such as barriers and raised medians, to address safety concerns on what ODOT has called one of the most dangerous highway sections in the state.

Art Anderson, ODOT area manager, said it's the east side of the project, toward the south Y, that would be cut.

"Right now we don't have enough money to build that project," said Anderson. "That project is about $10 million total and we only have $4.5 million."

Ashland Mayor John Morrison proposed cutting $2.45 million from the 199 project and $3.45 million from the Highway 62 project.

Representatives from both counties agreed that the $600,000 should be cut from the south Y environmental assessment project.

Brandes said he saw the RVACT decision coming and was surprised the discussion lasted as long as it did.

Medford's representative, former Councilman Skip Knight, said RVACT wasn't cutting the Highway 199 project from the list but postponing it until more funds become available.

Cummings said he worried that since there was nothing in writing, there was no guarantee that once funding became available it would go to the Grants Pass project.

The RVACT's decision will be forwarded to the Oregon Transportation Commission, which makes the final decision.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.